BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2015 -- The morning keynote session on "The Road to 5G" was filled with such heady, futuristic visions from operators, vendors and even a European Commissioner that leaving the auditorium was a bit like stepping back in time to the present.
The emphasis in all of the presentations was on the potential for 5G to improve people's lives -- from life-saving e-health or self-driving car applications to time-saving, energy-reducing communications services. At the network level, these life-altering changes can be achieved through advances in extremely low latency, faster network speeds and a huge increase in the number of devices that can be connected.
"5G has the power to kick start innovation and new services to improve lives in ways we can only imagine," said Dr. Chang-Gyu Hwang, chairman and CEO of KT Corp.
Hwang even starred in a KT video that showed what 5G capabilities would be like in the year 2020 (giving Tom Cruise in Minority Report a run for his money in the process!). In the video, he got to work in a self-driving car. During his commute he joined a video conference with people in the US, China and Korea, which featured real-time, automatic language translation. He also received a hologram call from his granddaughter asking him to watch her play the violin on his way to work.
"We're so close, we only have to wait a few years to see our 5G vision," he said, referring to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which is when and where KT plans to showcase 5G services.
Some of the potential applications Hwang showed were "sync view and sync feel" during events like snowboarding, which will give spectators the sense of being part of the action, "interactive cheers" posted on large screen displays in town centers encouraging crowds to support athletes during key moments of the competition, multi-angle highlights and 360 virtual reality views of the games, as well as mobile broadcasting.
Ultimately, Hwang calls KT's vision for a 5G future "Gigatopia."
According to Günther Oettinger, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, "The digitization of the economy and society is accelerating and requires a new generation of communication networks. It's not just about capacity and speed, it's about network infrastructure that's as easily available and pervasive as the air we breathe."
"5G is an opportunity for the telecom sector to re-invent itself offering specialized, new network services to other sectors like energy, health and automotive," he added.
To allow such services to flourish, an "open Internet" needs to be guaranteed, he said. In addition, he noted the importance of identifying new spectrum for 5G that can be adopted globally to avoid spectrum fragmentation. He also encouraged partnership with vertical sectors in order to realize 5G's potential.
But not everyone is aiming for a perfect world, and some warned that the industry should get the most value out of 4G before moving on to 5G.
Orange (NYSE: FTE) CEO Stéphane Richard said that the next generation will be important to support the rise of connected objects and to continuously enhance the quality of experience for customers.
"With 5G, there will be seamless connectivity at any time in any position," he said. "In 10 years from now, telecom and IT will be integrated into a high-capacity, ubiquitous infrastructure."
But Richard also cautioned the industry not to rush to 5G. "We must not jump too fast into the next generation of networks. Let's enjoy 4G. We should also remember what happened with 3G with the delay and the disappointment it created," he said.
According to Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) CEO Steve Mollenkopf, one of the biggest questions is, "When do we call it 5G?"
He pointed to several technologies that are evolutions of LTE that go some way towards some of the capabilities envisioned by 5G. Examples included were LTE MTC (machine-type communication), LTE Broadcast, LTE Direct Proximity, LTE Direct Communication as well as LTE Unlicensed (LTE-U).
"Where 5G diverges from 4G will be a big design change," he said, adding that it would encompass security and service robustness, user-centric connectivity, and a unified platform that operates across different spectrum types and bands.
Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) President and CEO Rajeev Suri said 5G means "rock-solid connectivity," but he characterized the 5G era as a "programmable world," going beyond just 5G technology. "We will focus on the outcome that it brings to people’s lives," he said.
According to Ken Hu, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. deputy chairman and rotating CEO, 5G will enable 100 billion connections, 1 millisecond latency and 10 Gbit/s peak speeds. It will be a platform for new applications, business models and new industries, he said.
"With human imagination and technology innovation, 5G will bring us to a brighter future," he said.
But Hu stressed that it will be important to have open collaboration across different industries to realize the vision for 5G, such as healthcare, education and government, as well as other sectors.
— Michelle Donegan, contributing editor, special to Light Reading